Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Quarter Season NL Rundown

This post was supposed to be a look at the NL after one month of play.  But it took me long enough that it’s more of a measure of the first two months.  Let’s call it the quarter season standings measurement. 


Washington Nationals:                        The Nationals are the other half of the beltway surprise.  They are perhaps a little overlooked as their success is less surprising, but it’s no less impressive.  At 26-18 they are first in the NL East.  It starts with their fantastic pitching staff of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Zimmerman and the big surprise, Ross Detwiler.  Gio Gonzalez leads the bunch with his 1.98 ERA, though the highest ERA is only 3.65 and is owned by Detwiler.  The highest BAA is Detwiler’s 250 with Gio Gonzalez leading the group at 167.  This starting rotation is unstoppable and the main reason why they have been one of the best teams in the league to start the year.  Their hitters aren’t playing poorly, but with so many injuries they are pretty lucky to be where they are today.  Adam LaRoche leads the team in AVG and RBI as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse have all seen serious DL time.  And now Wilson Ramos will be gone for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL.  So this pitching staff has to continue to be strong and carry this team that is nursing offensive injuries.  But the good news is that they’ve brought up hyper-talented outfielder Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman is back.  If they can stay close to the top of this strong division, then when they return to full strength they can continue to compete all season long and perhaps bring the Nationals nation their first playoff appearance ever. 

Atlanta Braves:                                    The Braves are looking to return to the playoffs after their epic collapse last season kept them out on the last day.  And after losing the first 4 games of the season, they have the best record in the majors and are clicking on all cylinders.  At 26-18, they are in second in the NL East and have the third best record in the league.  We knew they’d be able to pitch, and they haven’t disappointed.  Brandon Beachy is the big surprise here.  A lot of Braves fans knew he was talented and liked his ability to strike people out, but he wasn’t expected to be the ace of the staff.   But he leads the team with a 1.77 ERA to go with 4 Wins..  After him, Tommy Hanson is leading the team with 5 Wins and a 3.43 ERA.  Jair Jurrjens struggles sent him to the minors and Mike Minor isn’t doing much beyond striking people out, but Tim Hudson has returned healthy and Randall Delgado is playing well.  And with Julio Teheran waiting in the wings, the one area where the Braves have plenty of depth is in the starting pitching department.  The back end of their bullpen continues to be strong and Livan Hernandez was a great pickup in middle relief.  But the real key to the Braves improving this season was their offense.  Michael Bourn, who is one of the hottest hitters in baseball right now, leads the team with a 323 AVG.  He’s stolen 13 bases and scored 30 R.  Freddie Freeman is following his runner up Rookie of the Year campaign with a strong start in his sophomore season, leading the team with 7 HR and 32 RBI.  Dan Uggla’s playing well hitting 262 with 5 HR, 24 RBI and a team leading 30 R. Chipper Jones is hot in his final season with a 307AVG, 5 HR and 24 RBI.  And Jason Heyward is playing well too with 5 HR and 9 SB.  Atlanta has 6 players capable of 15 or more HR and 3 capable of 20 or more SBs.  They may finally have the balanced, strong offense to support their pitching staff.  If they do, they will be in the playoff running all year.      

New York Mets:                        Another big surprise this young offseason is the strong play of the New York Mets.  At 24-20, the Mets are 2 games back of first in the Eastern division and in third place above the Marlins and Phillies.  Individual stars on both sides of the ball are carrying this team and the role players are really over performing as well.  David Wright is leading the team, hitting 403 with an OBP of 503.  That’s just silly.  He’s doing a little bit of everything with 4 HR, 25 RBI, 29 BB and 4 SB.  And he leads the team with 29 R.  Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada are both hitting over 300 at the top of the order.  And rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis is playing very well with a 284 AVG and 13 RBI and 20 R.  Ike Davis and Lucas Duda are showing some power as well and this team is not a group of guys that you look forward to pitching to.  When it comes to the guys on the mound, they may be off to even better starts (except for David Wright…no one’s playing better than him….except for Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp).  Johan Santana has stepped back into the starting rotation and is looking like the staff ace he was when he went down with an injury a few years ago.  His record is 1-2 in 7 games, but he’s got a 3.24 ERA so far this season and a 239 BAA.  He’s pitching very well right now and keeping the Mets in every game.  R.A. Dickey leads the team with 6 Wins and he has a 3.45 ERA.  Mike Pelfrey was off to a strong start with a 2.29 ERA before he got hurt.  These starters were solid last year, but with these performances, a re-vamped bullpen (despite the struggles of closer Frank Francisco) and a much more balanced offense to support them they can really make some noise in a talented division.  I don’t think they can win the division this season, but this team is a lot better than people realize.  With the expectations for these guys in the basement, they are really impressing people and putting together a strong core that can hopefully compete in the near future.

Miami Marlins:                        The Marlins spent a lot of money this past offseason and were hoping to jump up to the top of the standings after finishing in last in 2011.  But at 24-20, they sit in fourth in the Eastern division and despite early struggles are showing some signs of turning it around.  Omar Infante is off to a strong start hitting 326 with 6 HR, 20 RBI and 21 R.  And while that hot start is fantastic, no one was expecting anywhere near this output from him, and a guy that was originally slotted to hit 7th or 8th can’t be the best hitter on your team.  Giancarlo Stanton is off to a pretty good start as well.  He’s hitting 281 with a team high 9 HR and 29 RBI.  But their three speed demons have started slow with Jose Reyes hitting 253, Emilio Bonifacio hitting 268 and Hanley Ramirez hitting 250.  They need to get those three guys on track if they want to score some runs.  They’ve done a little better in recent weeks, but if those guys don’t get on base then this offense will continue to struggle in that massive new ballpark.  Their starters have been okay, though their bullpen has struggled.  Carlos Zambrano is off to a fantastic start with a 1.96 ERA and 199 BAA.  Anibal Sanchez is pitching almost as well at 2.32 and making Mark Buehrle’s 3.36 look high.  The only one who’s really struggling is the ace of the group, Josh Johnson.  But their real issues are in the bullpen where they can’t find a stable 9th inning man.  They signed Heath Bell to a huge contract to close things out for them, but he’s blown 4 Saves and has an ERA over 7.  Edward Mujica isn’t too much better going 2 for 4 in Save opportunities and a 4.34 ERA.  These starters can pitch well, but if the bullpen fails them and their offense struggles, they won’t win a lot of games.  They need to turn things around for the fans in that new ballpark in a hurry.  But I think they will end up settling in the 500 range and finishing 3rd or 4th this season.

Philadelphia Phillies:                        And perhaps the biggest the surprise this season is the struggles of the Phillies.  At 22-23, they are last in the NL East.  Ryan Howard and Chase Utley haven’t played yet this season.  Cliff Lee missed some time to injury.  Jim Thome, brought in for depth, is on the DL.  Things haven’t been going the way they planned.  And the players they are able to keep healthy are either showing signs of age and slowing down or are just off to slow starts.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz, traditionally the weakest hitter in Philly’s stacked offense the last few years, is off to the best start in the city of brotherly love.  He’s hitting 344 with 7 HR and 29 RBI.  Juan Pierre, who was signed to play left field, is also hitting well as he takes playing time from John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix.  Pierre is hitting 304 in 40 games with 6 steals.  Nix has played well in his limited time too, sharing time with Pierre, spelling Pence and sending Mayberry Jr. to first as he hits 326 with 2 HR and 11 RBI.  But the starters aren’t doing nearly as well.  Ty Wiggington was supposed to take the lion’s share of time at first while Howard was hurt and also back up third and possibly second.  He’s hitting 248 with 2 HR.  Hunter Pence is hitting 265 and Jimmy Rollins 229.  Pete Orr and Freddy Galvis are splitting time at second while Utley heals and this offense needs a major shot in the arm.  They aren’t too far back in the division yet, but the teams in front of them are talented, and they need to start playing better before these guys return to the lineup, or by the time they get back it will be too late.  But this drop off in offense wasn’t out of the blue.  They started slow last year and knew they’d struggle some in the beginning of this season with their injuries.  They thought they’d be okay with their All Star pitching staff.  And while they are playing okay, they aren’t dominating like usual and are ending up losing their fair share of games behind their anemic offense.  Cole Hamels has been the ace thus far in 2012, with the team lead in Wins (6), ERA (2.48) and Ks (58).  But all anyone is talking about with him right now is his stupid decision to throw at Bryce Harper because he’s a rookie and that’s how things are done.  Roy Halladay isn’t pitching poorly, but sits at 4-4 with his 3.58 ERA.  Vance Worley is playing well with a 3.07 ERA and Cliff Lee is playing well when he’s healthy, turning in a 2.66 ERA over his 4 starts, though he’s 0-2.  The middle relief isn’t fantastic, with spot starter Kyle Kendrick turning in an ERA over 5 and 4 other guys with ERAs over 6.  If they keep giving up runs in the middle innings, the numbers the starters put forward won’t matter as they won’t have the offense to compete.  The Phillies are very talented.  But with health concerns and a troublesome bullpen, they are looking like the worst team in the East, and even a late return by Howard and Utley won’t boost them back up into first place if they drop far enough behind.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals:                        The defending champs are first in the Central division with a 25-19 record.  The team doesn’t seem to have missed a beat with the departure of Pujols and LaRussa, and Mike Matheny has this team playing hard and winning ballgames.  Rafael Furcal is off to a tremendous start with a 343 AVG.  He’s stolen 8 bases and scored 30 R to start the season.  The other big bat coming through early this season for the Cards is free agent signee Carlos Beltran.  A player many thought could be done has come out and is leading the team (and league) with 13 HR and 35 RBI.  If it weren’t for Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp, we’d be talking about Beltran nonstop.  Matt Holliday and David Frese have also slugged a combined 17 HR for the team while Jon Jay and Yadier Molina are both hitting over 300.  When you figure that they’ve had this success largely without Allen Craig and Lance Berkman, you think that this team will only get better as the season goes on, and should continue to keep hitting.  But it’s not just the hitting that has produced some surprising stars; it’s the pitching as well.  After finding out that Chris Carpenter would be gone for a while there was concern about the state of the starting rotation.  But Lance Lynn came in and put that concern to bed with his fantastic start.  He leads the team in Wins (6) and ERA (2.31).  In addition to Lynn, Kyle Lohse is off to a great start at 5-1 with a 2.91 ERA and Jake Westbrook is 4-3 with a 2.41 ERA.  With those guys leading the way, the Cards are succeeding despite the loss of Carpenter and the ineffectiveness of Adam Wainwright, who is showing signs of turning it around.  This just goes further in illustrating that the Cards are planning on defending their title and are in a good position to win the Central after a strong start to the 2012 season.

Cincinnati Reds:                        One of the most disappointing teams starting the season, the Reds have gotten things back on track in recent weeks as they’ve pulled their record up to 24-19 and are only trailing the Cards by half a game in the Central.  Jay Bruce has been on fire for this club with a team leading 10 HR and 27 RBI.  In addition, former MVP Joey Votto leads the team with a 303 AVG and has 7 HR and 28 RBI.  The rest of the hitters aren’t playing nearly as well, but there is a ton of talent on that team with Chris Stubbs and Brandon Phillips and they are slowly getting on track.  When they get there, this offense will be truly scary and right now they aren’t trailing the leaders of their division by too many games.  The situation on the mound is a little different.  They have individual stars, but by and large their group of pitchers is fairly average.  Johnny Cueto is having a fantastic season leading the team with 5 Wins and a 1.97 ERA.  He’s emerged as their ace this season, despite the presence of Mat Latos.  Bronson Arroyo has probably pitched the second best among the starters with a 3.46 ERA.  Latos and Bailey have ERAs in the 4s while Mike Leake’s is over 5.  Their bullpen has been solid with Sean Marshall stepping up after Ryan Madson was lost for the season.  Marshall is 6 for 7 in Save opportunities despite a high 4.80 ERA (for a closer).  Batters are hitting 333 against him, but he’s done a decent job stranding runners.  The real star of the pen is fire-baller Aroldis Chapman.  Chapman has 41 Ks in 23 innings and an ERA of 0.89.  He’s second on the team in Ks despite being a middle reliever.  Batters are also hitting .089 off of him.  He’s just fantastic.  If the Reds can see better performances out of their starters, and maybe a pick up in the offense as well, then they have a good chance to catch St. Louis in this division, as they are loaded with talent and were my pick to win the division.  They may not catch them, but they’ll be in the hunt all season.

Houston Astros:                                    Another huge surprise this season, the Astros sit in 3rd place in the NL Central with a 21-23 record.  The fact that we are highly encouraged by this shows how bad the team was last season and how low the expectations were.  I said that if the Astros didn’t lose 100 games, then Brad Mills should win manager of the year.  Perhaps that was a bit rash, but this team is certainly over-performing.  These young players are playing well with Jose Altuve leading the club with a 315 AVG.  Veteran Carlos Lee is second at 294 with 4 HR and 21 RBI.  Jed Lowrie is on fire with a 289 AVG and a team leading 7 HR and 18 RBI.  And there’s growth all around.  J.D. Martinez is struggling with a 226 AVG, but has 21 RBI.  Jordan Schafer has swiped 13 bags and scored 22 R.  There aren’t too many All Stars here, but these players are learning and getting better as they see more and more time against big league pitching, especially the guys who played a lot last season.  It’s a little different on the mound, as the old guys are taking the reins.  Bud Norris leads the team with 5 Wins and 58 Ks in 57 IP.  With a 3.14 ERA, he’s off to a great start.  Wandy Rodriguez is pitching even better with a 2.24 ERA and 3 Wins.  The young guys aren’t doing as well, but hopefully they are learning from the veterans’ successes.  And Brett Meyers has been lights out in the 9th.  No one thinks they’ll be in the playoff hunt this season, but they are playing a lot better than people thought and certainly keeping themselves from being embarrassed. 

Pittsburgh Pirates:                                    The Pirates sit at 20-24, 4 games below 500 and in fourth in the Central division.  That’s not where they want to be, but they aren’t too far back in the hunt.  After their surprising start last year where they were in first at the All Star break they were expecting a lot.  But they stumbled through the second half and ended up with their 20th straight losing record.  This season they are playing around 500, which is an improvement over their average season from the past 20 years, though not what they were hoping for after last year’s success.  Andrew McCutchen is leading this offense hitting 340.  He’s doing a little bit of everything hitting 7 HR, 23 RBI and 8 SB.  But after him the second highest average on the team is only 260.  Pedro Alvarez has 7 HR and 18 RBI, but is only hitting 203.  They have a lot of young guys on this club, and they are struggling.  You find that a lot with young players as they are figuring out pitching still while pitchers are adjusting to them.  They have plenty of talent, but the youth on this team is one reason a lot of people though they might struggle this season.  Luckily their pitching is keeping them in the mix.  James McDonald leads the team with a 3-2 record and 2.51 ERA.  He also has a team leading 58 Ks in 57 IP.  No other starter has a winning record, but they are playing solidly with Erik Bedard turning in a 3.52 ERA and Charlie Morton with a 4.35 ERA.  Kervin Correia is playing passably at 4.50 and even A.J. Burnett’s 4.78 isn’t too terrible.  Joel Harnahan is 10 for 11 in Save opportunities and most of their other pitchers are playing well in the bullpen. They aren’t overpowering opponents, but they are keeping the Pirates in games.  And if this young offense can get on track, I could see them playing better and maybe breaking that losing season streak.  But I don’t expect them to compete in this division this year.

Milwaukee Brewers:                        This was a team that was supposed to be in the running to win the division once they learned Ryan Braun would be with them all season.  Instead, they are 18-26 and in 5th in a division that looks pretty weak.  Ryan Braun is leading the team in HR (10) and RBI (21).  He’s also swiped 8 bags.  Young catcher Jonathan Lucroy is also playing well hitting 344.  But there are struggles after them.  Corey Hart is second with 9 HR, but is hitting only 256.  The new power guy, Aramis Ramirez is really struggling hitting 226 with only 3 HR.  Rickie Weeks has 4 HR but only a 158 AVG.  Nyjer Morgan is hitting 212.  This team was supposed to be an offensive force, even without Prince.  But Ramirez hasn’t been the answer and this offense is struggling.  But it’s not all their fault.  The pitching isn’t too spectacular.  Zack Greinke is playing very well with a 2.70 ERA, 5 Wins and 59 Ks in 56 IP.  Shaun Marcum is also playing well.  But Gallardo, Wolf and Narveson have ERAs over 4.50.  Closer John Axford’s ERA is over 4.40.  And K-Rod’s 4.91 ERA is worse.  This team is struggling all around, and has a lot to fix.  It’s early, so you can’t count them out yet.  But they are going to need quite a run to get back in the discussion. 

Chicago Cubs:                                    And we saw this one coming.  The Cubs are in a full re-build mode at 15-29, the worst record in baseball.  The offense has its moments with Starlin Castro hitting 309 and stealing 12 bags.  Also encouraging is Bryan LaHair’s 313 AVG with 10 HR and 21 RBI.  It complicates things with Anthony Rizzo waiting in the wings, but too many good hitters is always a plus.  But Geovany Soto is struggling and Alfonso Soriano isn’t doing great and this team is waiting out contracts and letting young guys get their feet wet.  The offense has some punch, but it’s not a force to be reckoned with.  The big surprise is the strength of the starting pitching.  Matt Garza is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA and 43 Ks in 48 IP.  Jeff Samardzja leads the team with 53 Ks while turning in an ERA of 3. Ryan Dempster has a team best 2.28 ERA, despite a 0-2 record.  Those 3 guys are killing it, while Paul Maholm is backing them up with 4 wins and a 4.73 ERA. Volstad is struggling, but 4 out of 5 starters playing well is pretty good.  And it’s especially important with a bullpen in flux and a closer in Carlos Marmol who lost his job after a 6.35 ERA and as many blown saves as converted ones.  Obviously this team has a lot to work on.  They won’t compete now, and some of these successful starters are getting too old to help for long.  But strong season could make them more attractive to playoff bound teams at the trade deadline, enabling Theo Epstein to keep re-building off the prospects he can get for them and the support they can bring a young offense. Everything is on schedule in Chicago, though Cubs fans don’t like the short-term plans.


Los Angeles Dodgers:                        The Dodgers have gotten off to a great start.  With the best record in baseball and one of the best outfielders in the game, it seems that all the Dodgers needed to win was a good owner who didn’t bankrupt the team and lie about his income.  It’s amazing how much more relaxed you play when the team is able to meet their payroll demands.  They were lead offensively by Matt Kemp who was trying to make good on his promise to have a 50/50 season.  The speed wasn’t there as much, (2 SB out of 5 attempts), but he leads the team with 12 HR, 29 R and a 359 AVG.  Unfortunately he’s now injured and has gone to the DL.  Luckily the other Dodgers are playing well in support finally, and some of them are playing out of their minds.  A.J. Ellis is the big surprise here with a 327 AVG.  This is a light-hitting catcher who’s moved around in his career, so no one thinks this will last.  But if he can keep it going a bit longer it will help offset the absence of Kemp.  But the guy the Dodgers really needed to step up the most was Andre Ethier.  And they are thrilled that he’s answered the call.  He’s hitting 321 with 9 HR and a team leading 40 RBI.  He’s finally been protecting Kemp, and that’s probably helped with his hot start as well.  Now that Kemp’s gone, he’s the man, and he needs to carry the team until Kemp can return.  And beyond those guys, Jerry Hairston Jr. has hit 315 in 19 games off the bench for this club, Tony Gwynn Jr. is hitting 298 and Mark Ellis is hitting 273.  The Dodgers are finally all swinging the bats a lot better, and it’s supported Kemp, and now needs to carry the team until their star returns.  Similar to their hitters, their starters have been Clayton Kershaw and everyone else.  But this year, the other guys are really stepping up too.  Chris Capuano leads the team with 6 Wins.  And he looks good with a 2.25 ERA, 201 BAA and 50 Ks in 56 IP.  Clayton Kershaw leads the club in Ks with 51 in 61 IP, but also a 0.88 WHIP, 1.90 ERA and 193 BAA to go with his 4-1 record.   But as good as those numbers are, the team leader in ERA isn’t either one of them.  It’s veteran Ted Lilly at 1.79.  He’s 5-0 and boasts a 170 BAA, and 0.90 WHIP.  Not many teams can boast three starters who are all pitching like aces.  And after them, Chad Billingsley and Aaron Harang have been solid with ERAs under 4.  This is a deep group of starting pitchers and they are helping keep this team at the top of the NL West.  Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansenn have both been solid at the back of the bullpen, and this Dodgers team looks like it’s ready for a run at the top of the division this season.  I’ll concede that essentially any team can win the NL West each year, but the Dodgers certainly weren’t the team I thought would be in first, but they are solidly up there and looking to stay.  I think we will be talking about them in the playoff hunt all season.

San Francisco Giants:                        At 23-20 the Giants are the only other team besides the Dodgers in the NL West that is over 500.  But they trail the Dodgers by 7 games, and their record is only good enough for a tie for fourth in the NL East and 3rd in the Central.  The Giants have subsisted with fantastic pitching the past few years.  Their offense has ranked near the bottom the past few seasons, and the one year in that time where they had enough offense to be considered just below average, they won a World Series.  While their pitchers are still sharp, their ace, Tim Lincecum has been the least effective to start this season.  He’s got a 6.04 ERA and 2-3 record.  That’s not what they need from him.  Luckily for the Giants, their other 4 starters have been great.  Madison Bumgarner leads the team with 5 wins to go with a 2.85 ERA.  Ryan Vogelsong leads the team with his 2.27 ERA and Matt Cain, recently signed to a long term contract that will pay him a lot of money, is off to a great start with a  4-2 record, 2.94 ERA and a team leading 62 Ks in 64 IP.  However the biggest pleasant surprise for the Giants has been the start of Barry Zito.  Zito has been largely ineffective since signing a massive contract with the team.  But he’s 3-1 this year with an ERA of 3.  This strong pitching staff is keeping them going and has helped their recent hot streak where they pulled their record over 500, though they gained little ground against LA.  And they need that pitching to keep going as the team hasn’t been overly effective with the bats.  Offseason acquisition Melky Cabrera has been a good trade for them so far as he leads the team with his 360 AVG.  He also leads the team with 27 R while chipping in 2 HR, 17 RBI and 6 SB.  After him, Pablo Sandoval is next with his 316 AVG, though he’s been limited to 24 games.  He’s slugged 5 HR and driven in 15 to go with that AVG in limited time, so they like what they’ve got in King Fu Panda, but they just need to keep him healthy.  2 other players have gotten off to good starts early this season, and they are Buster Posey and the other offseason trade acquisition, Angel Pagan.  Posey is hitting 300 with a team leading 6 HR and 23 RBI.  They missed his bat sorely last year.  And Angel Pagan is hitting 297 with a team leading 8 SBs to go with 4 HR and 13 RBI.  And those guys are leading a team that has some slumping starters.  Youngsters Brandon Belt and Emmanuel Crawford have combined for 1 HR and are both hitting under 240.  Injuries have limited Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot, who are both under 200.  This offense has some talent, but without a lot of team speed or power, they need all their guys to be hitting well if they expect to score runs.  You can never count a team that pitches like this out, especially this early.  But I don’t think they can go deep into the playoffs, if they even make it there.

Arizona Diamondbacks:                        Sitting in third place in the NL West with a 19-25 record is a very disappointing Arizona team.  They are 11.5 games back of first and in desperate need of something to turn them around.  This young group of talented hitters has been struggling.  They don’t have any hitters that qualify for the batting title at this point hitting over 300.  Chris Young is off to a great start hitting 322 with 5 HR, 15 RBI and 2 SB, but he’s just returned from injury and has missed a lot of time.  Lyle Overbay is off to a torrid start hitting 370 in 25 games.  But when it comes to their starters who have played a full slate of games, the highest AVG belongs to Jason Kubel at 280.  Justin Upton and Miguel Montero are hitting in the 250s, Paul Goldschmidt and Gerardo Parra are hitting in the 240s and Ryan Roberts and Aaron Hill are hitting in the 230s.  Hill leads the team with 5 HR and Montero with 21 RBI, but that’s pretty much it.  Parra leads the team with 10 SB and Justin Upton has also swiped 8.  This is a team with speed, power and some star power.  But their bats need to come alive soon.  They’ve dug themselves a huge hole, and the hot start of the Dodgers has made things even tougher for them.  On the pitching side of things, they’ve not nearly pitched as well as they did last season.  Daniel Hudson has an ERA of 6 and has missed a lot of time.  He should rejoin the team soon, and they hope he can be more effective.  Josh Collmenter has a 7.18 ERA.  Ian Kennedy, last year’s ace, has been effective, but not nearly as strong with a 3-4 record and a 4.47 ERA.  He leads the team with 45 Ks, but hitters are squaring the ball up against him as his 283 BAA shows.  Trevor Cahill has played well since joining the team, but some bad luck has turned his 3.74 ERA and 237 BAA into a 2-4 record.  The one pleasant surprise on the mound has been Wade Miley who leads the team with 5 Wins and a 2.14 ERA in 6 starts.  When Hudson comes back, I suspect they’ll find a way to keep him in the rotation while sending the struggling Collmenter to the bullpen.  That bullpen could use some new blood as J.J. Putz is struggling in the 9th with a 7.20 ERA, despite 9 Saves.  So the pitching needs to settle down if this team is to really make a push.  There was a fear that last year was a magic season for this club where a lot of guys had the best years of their careers at the same time, enabling them to win the division.  I don’t think that’s the case, and I picked them to win the division again.  But they need to improve in every area, and that will likely take time.  And the longer it takes, the farther behind they will fall as a surprisingly good team in LA shows no signs of slowing down. 

San Diego Padres:                                    At 16-28, the Rockies are 14.5 games back in the weakest division in baseball, and things aren’t looking great for them this season.  Not much was expected from this team that is considered to be re-building, but a few years ago they surprised everyone by almost winning the west and staying in the playoff hunt until the end.  It’s not looking like they will be doing that this season.  They continue to be a light hitting squad, though Yonder Alonso’s team leading 301 AVG is a good sign.  Alonso was the biggest piece of the Mat Latos deal and is hitting well while manning first for the Padres.  There’s a concern about his lack of power in that huge ballpark in Petco (1 HR and 14 2Bs….the definition of warning track power).  But he’s young, and right now he’s hitting well.  The only player who’s made any noise on the home run front is Chase Headley with his team leading 5 HR and 20 RBI.  But that comes with a 245 AVG from the highly touted thirdbaseman who hasn’t achieved his potential yet.  And the fact is this team just doesn’t hit well at all.  After Alonso, the player with the next highest AVG that’s appeared in at least 30 games is Chris Denofria at 264.  Everyone else is sitting between 230 and 250 with no power and little speed apart from Cameron Maybin (13 SB).  They are re-building, but so far these pieces don’t frighten the competition.  Their pitching is again solid, but Petco has a lot to do with that.  I could turn in a sub 5 ERA in that stadium.  Cory Leubke leads the team with 3 Wins to go along with a 2.89 ERA.  The best ERA belongs to Anthony Bass at 2.61 to go along with his team leading 51 Ks in 54 IP.  After those two, Edinson Volquez and Jeff Suppan are pitching well while Clayton Richard and Joe Wieland are pitching fine.  But despite the solid mound performances, they can’t win games.  Huston Street and Dale Thayer are fantastic in the bullpen with a combined 9 Saves and a sub-1 ERA.  But when you don’t win games, you don’t get lots of Save opportunities.  They can’t score.  If you can’t score you can’t win.  And when you get on the road, your pitching isn’t as strong as it seems, and it means you lose lots of games.  That’s what’s been happening in San Diego right now.  It was expected, but it’s still now fun for fans to watch.  I don’t think we need to consider this team as a playoff contender this year.

Colorado Rockies:                                    The Rockies are also 14.5 games back of first in the NL West.  They have one less win and one less loss than the Padres.  But other than the similar records, this team couldn’t be more different, and it makes their lack of success all the more disheartening.  The Rockies have been up and down in recent years.  They have a strong core, and used this offseason to back it up with solid veterans as they try to slug their way into contention in the remaining years that the West is weak.  With LA under new ownership, the Giants locking down their ace starters and the young Diamondbacks getting more experience, the window was closing for the Rockies to make some noise.  So they went for it this offseason with a lot of free agent additions to make their offense truly formidable.  But it came at the expense of pitching and has been their undoing so far in 2012.  Carlos Gonzalez leads the team with a 301 AVG, 8 HR and 32 RBI.  He’s also got 6 SB and 31 R.  He’s playing very well.  But their other young stud, Troy Tulowitzki is having a slow start with a 261 AVG.  He’s hit 5 HR and driven in 19, but he’s only 1 for 3 on the bases and isn’t looking like his All Star self.  In addition, Dexter Fowler and Marco Scutaro are off to slow starts for this team hitting under 250 and Todd Helton is hitting 220.  Free agent Michael Cuddyer is playing well with a 282 AVG, 4 HR, 26 RBI and 6 SB.  But this team was supposed to be an offensive force in an offensive park that would offset weak pitching.  If these guys aren’t hitting like crazy, then they are in trouble. And right now they are an average offense at best.  That’s been the biggest cause of their slow start.  Also a major factor in the slow start, was the pitching that we figured would be suspect before the season even started.  The lowest ERA among their starters belongs to Juan Nicasio at 4.83.  Drew Pomeranz has done a little better in limited starts at 4.70.  But Jamie Moyer, Jeremy Guthrie, Jhoulys Chacin, the aforementioned guys and the spot starters have all struggled mightily.  Part of it is Coors Field.  The rest of it is their ineffectiveness.  The bullpen has been a little better with Rafael Betancourt saving 7 out of 8 games and pulling down an ERA of 3.  But the pitching as a whole is as weak as we thought it’d be.  Couple that with an offense that is nowhere near as good as we thought it would be, and you have a team tied for last in the NL West.  It’s early, and the Rockies offense should improve, but with LA off to such a strong start and the talent in Arizona and San Francisco, I think this team will have finish outside the playoffs, wasting an aggressive offseason.

Monday, May 7, 2012

First Month AL Summary

The 2012 season is off and running.  At this early point in the season, I think a look at the standings shows us some surprises and some things we expected.  So let’s see how  the AL teams are shaping up after the first month of the season.


Baltimore Orioles:                        The Orioles may be the surprise success story of the season at 19-9 and first in the AL East.  Buck Showalter had them winning games when he took over, but that success didn’t translate over a full season in 2011.  But his hitters are young and talented, and he’s finally getting good production from his young pitchers.  I always thought that if these young guys could learn to pitch at an average to slightly above average level the Orioles would have the offense to compete.  They are proving that to be the case, even with slugger Mark Reynolds struggling and homerless after the first month of the season.  But Adam Jones is hitting well and showing plus power so far this season, and Matt Wieters has found his power stroke leading the team in HR and RBI.  Chris Davis is also playing well and they are supporting a solid pitching staff led by Jason Hammel’s 3 Wins and 1.97 ERA.  I don’t know if they can keep up this level of production, but even a drop in pitching production could be offset if the rest of their hitters catch up a bit.  The Orioles are off to a strong start and this April has shown what this talented young team is capable of.

Tampa Bay Rays:                        At 19-10, the Rays have one of the best records in baseball and an incredible pitching staff leading them.  The big surprise is that their offense is clicking so far this season, though the loss of Evan Longoria to the DL is going to hurt them.  But Carlos Pena has returned and not missed a beat, and Matt Joyce, Jeff Keppinger and even B.J. Upton are off to good starts.  The only thing the Rays aren’t doing is selling tickets, but that’s nothing new.  I picked them to make it to the playoffs in one of the wildcard slots this year, and over a month into the season they are playing well and leading the toughest division in baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays:                        The Blue Jays have long been one of the most underrated teams in the major leagues in my opinion.  They play the best teams in the toughest division in baseball.  And they are still able to at least turn in 500 ball, while excelling against opponents from other divisions.  I love the Blue Jays and what Adam Anthopoulos and John Farell have put together there.  They built a strong offensive core and then Farell was able to help those young pitchers reach their potential.  This is a dangerous club that no one wants to face.  Jose Bautista is the best slugger in baseball right now, their middle infield of Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar is multi-talented and has experience playing in the field together, Brett Lawrie is a talented young stud and they have an outfield with tons of potential in Rajai Davis, Colby Rasmus and Eric Thames.  Not only is this team good, but also they are young and have plenty of players reaching their primes.  I think they will continue to play well this season, and while they may not reach the playoffs this year, their time isn’t far off, and we could start seeing playoff baseball in Canada as soon as 2013.

New York Yankees:                        At 15-13 the Yankees aren’t having the kind of start they envisioned.  Tex is struggling, Cano is struggling and they won’t be getting anything out of Michael Pineda this season, or possibly ever.  (Though I think he’s young enough to bounce back from his surgery and has had so little mileage on that arm that he can build it back up and pitch effectively again soon).  Freddy Garcia is moving to the bullpen with his issues, and with the saddest news of the year Mariano Rivera tore a knee ligament in BP and will miss the rest of the season, and possibly be done forever.  But they have Petite coming up, Sabathia, Nova and Hughes are healthy and Jeter is playing fantastic baseball right now.  I think they will get things back on track and move up in the standings.  They are too talented to do otherwise, and as sad as the loss of Mo is, they have two capable options to take his spot in Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.  Tex is always slow, but his power numbers will be there, and hopefully his AVG as well.  Swisher is playing well, Cano will turn it around and the Yankees will be back in the division hunt by the All Star Break.

Boston Red Sox:                        And in last place we have one of the biggest disappointments of the season.  The Boston Red Sox are 11-16, 7.5 games back of first and 3.5 games back of the Yankees in 4th place.  Visions of that September collapse are still haunting them and Bobby V isn’t making himself any friends in a volatile Red Sox clubhouse or with a frustrated fan base.  Their pitching has been atrocious with Josh Beckett’s 4.45 the best among the starters.  The bullpen has been even worse with big free agent Mark Melancon the owner of a 49.50 ERA and Andrew Bailey done for the year.  Kevin Youkilis is hurting and off to a bad start, Carl Crawford isn’t anywhere near coming off the DL and Jacoby Ellsbury went down with an injury early on.  Other than David Ortiz, these Red Sox aren’t really producing.  And it’s hard to imagine them threatening for a division title with Mike Aviles leading off, Nick Punto playing every day and Cody Ross hitting 5th.  The Red Sox were supposed to have better pitchers than the Yankees and better hitters than the Rays.  That would put them in the running for a top 3 spot in this division.  Instead they are last behind both of those teams, the shockingly good Orioles and the not-so-shockingly good Jays.  Their starters need to make some improvements, their bullpen needs to make massive improvements, and they need to get healthy.  It’s too early to say they are finished as they were one of the best teams in baseball from May to August last year.  But after the way last season ended (and started), this is not how they scripted their first month. 


Cleveland Indians:                        This is another big surprise for the beginning of the 2012 season.  Many considered the Indians the second best team in the Central Division, but still light years behind the mighty Tigers.  But, similar to last year, the Indians are off to a hot start and playing well in April.  On the mound Derek Lowe, is the leader with a 4-1 record in 6 games and a 2.39 ERA.  The numbers likely won’t stay there as hitters are hitting 295 against him and his 1.49 WHIP isn’t very good.  But he’s been able to avoid giving up runs as he leads the Indians in IP, ERA and Wins. The other surprise success on the mound is young Jeanmar Gomez, who sports a 2-1 record in 4 starts with a 2.82 ERA.  If Ubaldo Jiminez and Justin Masterson can turn things around this pitching staff gets very formidable.  And the Indian offense is making some noise as well.  Asdrubal Cabrera is following up an All Star 2011 campaign with a strong start this season hitting 333 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.  Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner are slugging well and Jason Kipnis is also turning in a strong start.  If Shin Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore can contribute, then this team will stay in the running for the division all year.   

Detroit Tigers:                        The Tigers were supposed to run away with this division.  But at 14-13 they are in second, 2 games back of the Indians.  That’s not bad, but based on the expectations heaped upon them, nowhere near where they should be to start the season.  Their hitters are playing well.  Miguel Cabrera is hitting 290 and leading the team with 7 HR and 22 RBI.  Fielder is playing well, though he only has 3 HR so far.  And Austin Jackson is off to a great start leading off for Detroit, hitting 303 with 4 SB and 18 R.  But it’s their pitching that has failed them so far.  No pitcher has more than 2 Wins on this club.  Verlander isn’t pitching badly at 2-1 with a 2.38 ERA.  But he only has 2 Wins in 6 starts, and one of those came off a Complete Game.  Fister got hurt in the 4th inning of his first game and the other 3 starters (Porcello, Wilk and Scherzer) have ERAs of 5.64 and up.  Jose Valverde has blown 2 Saves and sports a 6.17 ERA and there are 4 guys in the Tiger bullpen with ERAs north of 8.  This team is too good to play like this.  Their offense is fantastic, and they have some great pitchers.  Verlander will start winning more games, because you have to get wins when you pitch like he does (0.86 WHIP, 184 BAA and 42 Ks in 45 IP).  Fister should get healthy and the other starters will turn it around.  I still think they will win the division, but they need to get moving in the right direction. 

Chicago White Sox:                        The White Sox are 13-16, 4 games back of first.  This is pretty much where we expected them to be.  They are somewhere between contending and re-building, but no one expected them to be running away with the division, and they certainly are not.  Dunn has found his power stroke and leads the team with 9 HR and 23 RBI, after hitting only 11 HR last season.  Paul Konerko continues to defy the Gods of Time with a 347 AVG, 6 HR and 17 RBI.  Alex Rios is hitting 276 and Pierzynski has a 278 AVG with 5 HR.  They aren’t the Rangers, but they are okay with the bats, finishing towards the middle (17th) in both team AVG and R.  The one area where the Sox seem to be overachieving is in the starting pitching department.  Former Cy Young Winner Jake Peavy, who has been written off by many in the baseball world as all but done, leads the staff.  He’s 3-1 in 6 games with a 1.99 ERA, a team leading 39 Ks and 2 Complete Games and 1 Shutout.  Chicago was hoping he could be their ace ever since they traded for him, and they may finally be getting some of what they hoped for now that he’s healthy.  I don’t know that he can keep it up, but a 0.75 WHIP and 171 BAA seems to support the idea that he’s found a way to be dominant again.  After Peavy, Gavin Floyd has a 3.03 ERA with a 0.96 WHIP and 191 BAA in his 6 starts, Chris Sale has a 2.81 ERA in his 5 starts (1.00 WHIP and 205 BAA), and Philip Humber has a solid 4.62 ERA to go along with a perfect game.  4 of their 5 starters are playing very well, and with better offensive support, this group of talented starters could be leading this division.  And their bullpen is solid with the closer by committee ending in Hector Santiago getting the 9th inning job and 5 pitchers with an ERA under 3 in that pen.  The White Sox are a solid team.  They likely won’t win the division, and their pitchers are unlikely to keep this up.  But if they do, this is a team that might try to make some offensive moves at the deadline to make a run in this division that doesn’t have a lot of contenders.

Kansas City Royals:                        The Royals sit at 9-18, 7 games back of first.  No one really thought they’d win the division, but there was a lot of hope for this team that has been re-building for years, and seems to finally have their team put together and ready to play in the majors.  But this Kansas City squad seems to be struggling as much as past teams have, except this time management can’t say, “Just wait till we get our young guys up here”.  The fans of this team are incredibly frustrated, especially with their 2-12 record at home.  The Royals need to see better production at the plate.  They have the ability with the 10th best team average in the majors.  But they are 22nd out of 30 teams in runs scored, as they aren’t getting their guys across the plate.  There is production there as Billy Butler is playing well with a 298 AVG, 5 HR and leading the team with 19 RBI.  Alcides Escobar is hitting 274 with 7 SB.  And Mike Moustakas is hitting 304 with 4 HR and 15 RBI.  But Eric Hosmer is struggling despite his team leading 5 HR with a 192 AVG.  Escobar only has 9 R.  Francoeur is playing poorly and Alex Gordon has also had a drop in production from last year.  But as much as their bats are struggling, it’s the starting pitching that is really letting them down.  The best ERA among the starters is 4.98 from Bruce Chen.  No pitcher on the team has more than 2 Wins.  Felipe Paulino gave them 6 shutout innings in one start and Danny Duffy has a 3.57 ERA over 4 starts.  But their regular starters all have ERAs in or around 5 and that’s not good.  After the injury to Soria, Jonathan Broxton is being asked to close again and has really stepped up going 5/6 in Save chances with a 1.86 ERA.  The rest of the bullpen is okay, but they are coming into games in losing situations after the starters have struggled.  The Royals have a great group of young hitters who aren’t performing.  Their pitchers aren’t fantastic and are pitching the way we expected.  I think they can play better than this, but don’t expect them to be contending in the Central division this year.

Minnesota Twins:                        Wow.  Hard to believe that a few years ago this team was consistently a top 3 finisher in the division.  We blamed the issues last year on the loss of Mauer and Morneau.  And while that’s still likely the case, we all now know how much we undervalued Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel.  With them gone, Morneau back to the DL, and Mauer just playing okay, this team is 7-20 with the worst record in the AL.  They are 8.5 games back of first, and not likely to move to far up the division this season.  They were no-hit by Jered Weaver last weak, they’ve lost their first baseman again, and Jamey Carroll is their starting shortstop.  Things are looking bleak in Minneapolis.  There are a few positive signs.  Denard Span is off to a good start hitting 309 with 3 SB.  Josh Willingham was an invaluable pick up for them hitting 291 with a team leading 5 HR and 15 RBI.  And Mauer is hitting 278.  But the rest of the offense is underperforming, and you’d like to see more power from the catcher.  And with the pitching staff being as bad as it has been, they desperately need more from their hitters.  Carl Pavano’s 4.62 ERA is the best among the starters.  2 of the 6 guys they’ve used as starters have ERAs over 9.  4 of their 6 starters have BAAs of 300 or higher.  And none of them have more than 2 Wins.  Matt Capps has 5 Saves, but a 4.50 ERA, which is extremely high for a closer.  The rest of the bullpen is okay, but they can’t win games when the starters give up a ton of runs that the offense can’t match.  There’s not much going right in Minnesota this season, and I’d be shocked if they moved out of the basement by the All Star break.


Texas Rangers:                        The Texas Rangers are off to a terrific start.  After winning the pennant back-to-back years, they were not okay with the Angels being projected to run away with this division and have made a statement.  Their 18-10 record is one of the best in baseball and their 3.5 game lead over the rest of the division is the second highest margin in baseball.  It starts with their dynamic offense, which continues to be among the best in baseball.  Josh Hamilton leads the team with a 381 AVG and also leads the AL with 9 HR and 26 RBI.  Ian Kinsler leads the team with 28 R to go with his 284 AVG and 5 HR while Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Michael Young are hitting over 300 and Mitch Moreland, Craig Gentry and David Murphy are all hitting over 270.  And even Mike Napoli is heating up with 7 HR this season.  Almost every hitter on this team is off to a good start and looks like they can play like this all year.  But that was never in doubt.  The question was, how would these pitchers play after moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation, bringing in a new closer in Joe Nathan and seeing ace C.J. Wilson move to the rival Angels.  And the answer is they would be just fine.  Colby Lewis is off to a great start with a 2.97 ERA and a 3-1 record.  Yu Darvish has stepped up to be the ace with a 4-1 record and a 2.54 ERA (the best among the starters) and a team leading 44 Ks. Neftali Feliz is fitting well in the starting rotation with a 3.81 ERA and fantastic 191 BAA.  And the bullpen continues to flourish with Nathan going 7 for 8 in Save chances, Alexi Ogando holding down a 0.61 ERA and 5 bullpen guys with sub-3 ERAs.  This team was expected to contend even with the Angels being so strong, and with them struggling they are looking to extend their lead and keep a stranglehold on this division that it will be difficult for anyone, even the mighty Angels, to overcome.

Oakland Athletics:                        We figured the Rangers would be one of the top 2 teams in the West.  We didn’t think the Athletics would be the other team.  Right now Oakland sits at 15-14, 3.5 games back of first.  They aren’t blowing anyone out of the water, but with the 11th best ERA in baseball, they are led by a solid pitching staff that keeps the team in games and has put the A’s one game over 500.  Bartolo Colon leads the staff with a 2.83 ERA.  Brandon McCarthy is right behind him at 2.86.  And Tommy Milone is the team leader in Wins with 4 and a deceptively high 4.42 ERA which belies his effectiveness (226 BAA).  Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz they are not, but this group of starters is solid and keeping an anemic offense in enough games that they are in second in their division and have more Wins than losses after the first month of the season.  And they have a winning record with essentially the worst offensive output possible, ranking 26th in R and dead last with a 213 team batting average.  I don’t know if they’ll stay in second and I certainly don’t think they will compete in this division, especially with that offensive output.  But if you were to tell the A’s they’d play 500 ball or slightly better at the beginning of the season, they’d have probably accepted that and been pretty happy with themselves. 

Seattle Mariners:                        At 13-17 the Mariners sit 6 games back of first.  This isn’t too much of a surprise, as we weren’t expecting this team to be fantastic on either side of the ball.  Kyle Seager, in his first full season with the team, leads them in AVG hitting 298.  Tied with him is Ichiro, who has moved to third in the order and after one month has 1 HR and 12 RBI.  That puts him on pace for 6 HR and 72 RBI, which isn’t what they were hoping to get from him.  Jesus Montero is off to a good start hitting 287 with 4 HR and 15 RBI.  But after those guys, everyone else is struggling with the team ranking 24th in AVG.  And while their pitching is a little better, it really drops off after Felix Hernandez.  Hernandez leads the team with a 3-1 record, 1.89 ERA and 51 Ks.  He really is dominant with a 0.94 WHIP and 189 BAA.  Jason Vargas is also off to a good start with a 3-2 record and 3.09 ERA (1.03 WHIP/201 BAA).  But their other 3 starters (Blake Beavan, Kevin Millwood and Hector Noesi) all have ERAs of 4.45 or higher and losing records.  And with the anemic offense this team has had the past few years, they have to do better on the mound, and until they do they will continue to struggle.  They are third in this division right now, and that’s where I had them finishing the season in my preseason rankings.  But this start may have banished them to the basement for the year as the Angels are too good to stay with them, and Oakland is outpitching them so far. 

Los Angeles Angels:                        And this is one of the other major surprises of the season.  This team was picked by many to make the World Series and by most to win the AL West.  Instead they sit at 12-17, 6.5 games back of the Rangers, currently in first.  The pitching was strong last year, and has continued to play at a high level, Ervin Santana not withstanding.  C.J. Wilson is looking like a solid pickup going 4-2 with a 2.61 ERA in his 6 starts.  Dan Haren and Jerome Williams are solid with ERAs in the mid-3s.  But Jered Weaver is still the ace here.  He’s 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA so far.  He’s got a no-hitter and a team leading 45 Ks to his name.  He’s leading this fantastic starting group as they are keeping their team in games.  The main issue this team is facing is the one they struggled with all last season, and thought they had fixed in their aggressive offseason.  And that is offense.  Some guys are playing well.  Kendrys Morales has come back from injury to put together a strong April with a 318 AVG, which leads the team.  Mark Trumbo is playing okay at third but is hitting very well at 313 with part of the team lead in HR with 4.  He shares that lead with Torrii Hunter (294) and Howie Kendrick (275).  But this offense was supposed to revolve around Albert Pujols.  And Pujols is hitting an abysmal 196 at this point in the season.  He got his first homer of the year recently, but nothing seems to be going right for him.  After getting a tremendous contract that has been panned by many, he has come out of the gates ice cold, and it’s killing the Angels.  Trumbo has great power but is very young.  Morales is a wildcard after his injury, and Kendrick has nice pop but isn’t expected to be a slugger.  Pujols has to step it up, especially with Ianetta, Aybar, Bourjous and Wells struggling with him and Bobby Abreu being cut after his slow start.  Mike Trout should inject some life into this team, but he’s not the answer.  The answer stands at first, criminally underperforming and making the Angels look overmatched on the diamond.  I don’t think they’ll stay last, and I think they still have a chance to contend for the division title.  But as bad as this start is, it’s made worse when you look at the way the Rangers started, and may have the Angels chasing a wildcard at the end of the year instead of a division crown.